Page last updated at 15:46 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 16:46 UK

A tunnel to unite old rivals?

By Veronica Smink
BBC Mundo, South America

Plans for a tunnel linking Bolivia to the Pacific Ocean have been unveiled by three architects who say it could put an end to a 130 year-old dispute between the landlocked country and its neighbour, Chile.

File photo of Bolivian President Evo Morales
President Evo Morales wants Bolivia to regain access to the Pacific Ocean

The three Chilean architects claim the tunnel would allow Bolivia to regain access to the sea since it was defeated by Chile in the Pacific War in 1879.

This has been one of Bolivia's main demands for years, and is still strongly voiced by current President Evo Morales.

The 150km (93 miles) tunnel would run from the Bolivian border to an artificial island created in the Pacific Ocean from earth dug to build the tunnel.

The Chilean Foreign Minister, Mariano Fernandez, has given the green light to further studies into the project, saying that Chile "is open to all suggestions that foster Latin American integration".

The Bolivian government has yet to give its view.

'Poetic idea'

The plan was proposed by Chilean architects Carlos Martner, Fernando Castillo Velasco and Humberto Eliash.

The only barriers to overcome are political
Architect Humberto Eliash

Mr Eliash, the youngest of the three men, told the BBC that the idea came from an "informal chat" with his two colleagues, both of whom are famous architects in Chile.

"Poets say that we must build a bridge between Bolivia and the Pacific that jumps over Chile. We wanted to see if it could work in reality," he says.

Long tunnels are being planned around the world to connect places such as Russia and the US (through the Bering Strait), China and Taiwan, Tunisia and Sicily as well as Spain and Morocco, he adds.

"There is little doubt that the technical challenges can be solved. I think the economic problems can also be sorted out. The only barriers to overcome are political," he says.

But those political hurdles are huge in one of the few regions in South America where territorial disputes are still alive.

According to the plan, the tunnel would run under the so-called Line of Concord which separates Chile and Peru.

The reason, the architects say, is that this is an area free of mines or cables which could potentially complicate the project.

But both Peru and Chile dispute the border.

To go ahead, the project would also need the approval of Peru.

And there are doubts about whether there would be the political will at a time when Peru and Bolivia are arguing about Peru's decision to grant asylum to former opposition leaders from Bolivia.

In addition, the artificial island would be created in waters claimed both by Peru and Chile.

And both countries have recently taken a row over coastal waters to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.


However the architects believe this is another reason for Bolivia, Peru and Chile to agree on the project.

Chile and Peru would have to agree that Bolivia would have sovereignty over the tunnel, Mr Eliash says. And that in turn would open up discussions about the complex issues of immigration and security.

But the architect believes that other examples of tunnels linking different countries around the world have forced governments to update their view on these issues.

"These are the real issues of the 21st Century. But I believe that most fascinating of all is that if we can imagine it we can do it," he says.


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